Upside Down Cake Recipe

upside down cake

I had big plans for this cake. I bought these gorgeous apricots, packed them up to take out to the country last weekend to make a cake. I planned to pick some rose geranium leaves to flavor the batter, and I was going to bake it and serve it proudly forth.

bag of apricots

Except someone decided to use my perfectly-ripe apricots to make some jam, and the Hooters-worthy neighbor who promised me rose geranium leaves, actually brought me regular geranium leaves, which I was certain would kill us all if we ate them. So I had to make some last-minute adjustments.

Fortunately there were some nice nectarines around, and I had brought some dried sour cherries to snack on. So I plumped the cherries overnight and I figured those tangy little nuggets embedded in a layer of caramelized brown sugar wasn’t such a bad consolation prize. (And for the record, it’s not a good idea to complain to me when I’m wielding my cast iron skillet. Trust me on that one…)

caramel for upside down cake

It’s no secret that I love anything drenched in caramel. Well, if it was a secret before, it isn’t anymore. But can we talk about Upside Down Cake?

I mean—fresh fruit and berries, embedded in melted brown sugar, baked with a buttery cake batter that offsets the tangy fruit on top. What’s not to like? (Except maybe, the person who swiped my apricots.) But this all goes to prove what a versatile dessert Upside Down Cake is. Just about any seasonal fruit that you have on hand works very well in this recipe.

unbaked cake

I prefer to use fruits that are on the tart side, since the contrast against the melt-down of brown sugar and butter is oh-so-heavenly. A pinwheel of unpeeled nectarines, rows of fresh apricots, or tart plums, are all personal favorites. I like fresh blood orange slices during the winter, and there’s no reason you can’t use pears in the fall. Around the holidays, I’ll dump a bag of fresh or frozen cranberries in the pan and just call it a day.

Actually, I call it a Cranberry Upside Down Cake.

To bake my Upside Down Cake, I used a wide pan, a bit larger than the standard cake pan, and pulled out my big 10-inch (25cm) cast iron pan. I’m all for tall, buttery cakes, but with Upside Down Cake, I’m in the camp of those who like a high gooey caramelized fruit-to-cake ratio. But you can stick with a standard 9-inch (23cm) cake pan and you won’t be disappointed.

ingredients

Since you’re caramelizing in the pan, don’t use a spring form pan unless you’re terribly fond of spending a couple of days scraping burnt caramel off your stove burners. Better to spend that time scraping it out of the corners of the pan, and into your mouth—which is the best part, in my book.

Oh, and by the way. Those apricots went to pretty good use in the jam, which was enjoyed by all for breakfast. Even me—albeit grudgingly. And since we’re sharing secrets, just so you know: a day-old wedge of Upside Down Cake is one of my favorite things for breakfast, too.

But I found out that I had to get up earlier than everyone else since I discovered a few other people shared the exact same secret. So I guess it’s not such a secret anymore.

cake batter


Upside Down Cake

One 10-inch (25cm) cake, 8-10 servings

You have some latitude with the fruits that you use. Just make sure that whatever you use covers the bottom in a substantial layer, around double-thickness, since the fruit will cook down while baking and settle nicely into place. Berries and such as good nestled in the gaps between the slices of fruits.

For the fruit layer:

3 tablespoons butter (45g), salted or unsalted
3/4 cup packed (135g) light brown sugar
fruit: 8 quartered plums or apricots, 3-4 thickly-sliced pears or nectarines, or 2 cups cranberries; add a handful of huckleberries, cherries, raspberries, or another bushberry

For the cake layer:

  • 8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup (150g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature.
  • 1 1/2 cups (210g) flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (125ml) whole milk, at room temperature

1. Melt the 3 tablespoons (45g) of butter in a cast iron skillet, or cake pan (see Note). Add the brown sugar and cook while stirring, until the sugar is melted and begins to bubble. Remove from heat and let cool.

2. Once cool, arrange the fruit in a pinwheel design, added berries if desired. Set aside.

3. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 350F. (190C)

4. Beat the 8 tablespoons 9115g) of butter and sugar until fluffly. Add the vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, until smooth.

5. Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

6. Stir in half of the flour mixture, then the milk, then the remaining dry ingredients. Do not overmix: stir just until the flour is barely incorporated into the batter.

7. Spread the batter over the fruit, then bake for 45 minutes to one hour (depending on the size of the pan, and the thickness of the batter.) The cake is ready when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the center feels just set.

8. Remove from oven, let cool about 20 minutes, then place a cake plate on top, and wearing oven mitts, flip the cake out on to the plate, taking care, as there may be some hot caramel that might escape.

Serving: Upside Down Cake is best served warm, perhaps with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. It can be made in advance, left in the pan, and rewarmed in the cake pan or skillet right before serving. It’s also very good rewarmed in a microwave, and served immediately.

Related posts:

American Baking in Paris (For brown sugar substitutes)

Respect Your Elderberries (Elderberry syrup recipe)

Pineapple Upside Down Cake (Simply Recipes)

Vanilla Ice Cream (Recipe)

Persimmon Bread (Recipe)

Banana Cake (Recipe)

47 comments

  • Yummmmmmmmmy!! We had fantastic nectarines last weekend, I am off this morning to find some more! This looks too good to pass up!
    Thanks!! :-)

  • Hi David,
    Apricots never last long enough in my house to make anything with them…
    I love upside down cakes. It’s a caramel thing, really… I made a blueberry, almond upside down cake about a week ago that was insanely good. I love the idea of making a cranberry one for the holidays. It might become a new family tradition. Merci pour les superbes recettes et photos.

    I love reading your blog. It’s always an adventure, and a trip down memory lane because of my connection to France.

  • hi Alexa: I love blueberries and didn’t mention them since they’re so hard to get around here. When you find them, they’re sold in baskets of 18 (berries!) for around 4€ ($6). Needless to say, I rarely pick them up.

    So I guess that makes you my connection to something American!
    : )

  • David, did you use cassonade for the brown sugar, and if so, did you add any molasses? I find I need to do that here with recipes that call for brown sugar – unless you have some other trick that I should know? The cake looks utterly delicious.

  • oh david, about blueberries, i think you need to find them where there’s plenty : in the garden of some nice people you may know. that’s the only secret to find fresh non expensive (free most of the time :D) berries in france.

    My grand-mother in law has one of those gardens where every cube meter is planted with food, on the floor you’ll find potatoes, any kind of herbs, strawberrys, des poireaux, onions, carrots and other roots, melons, pumpkins, zuchinis, then at one meter to two meters high any berry you’d want, blueberries, raspberries, groseilles blanches et rouges, groseilles à maquereaux et des cassis !, hUge blackberries, but also apples, prunes, questches, pears, peaches… and after two meters high there is the cherry trees… and all this is spiced with lots of beautifull flowers, you’d love the place :)

    i think that’s why there’s not a real choice in the markets for berries here in france : they need a lot of manutention, are very fragile, and people are not interested since almost anyone knows nice people (family or friends) that grows some. how can a market beat a whole basket of fresh fruit slightly hot from the sun, taken on the plant not even 10mns ago…

    (hmm, what i said is mostly true for la province… in paris, i must admit things maybe different :) )

  • by the way, i’m on bloglines and your rss seems not to work yet, and the ” remember personal info box” do not either.

  • hi. am one of those blog readers who sneakily enjoy inhaling these posts but don’t comment, but here i am. is there a decent substitute for butter for the lactose intolerant? this recipe sounds scrumptious…i only hope i have the time for it.

    (on a slightly unrelated note, is it really hard to get by in paris without speaking french? (besides bonjour, merci and french food names) i’ll be going to paris sometime next month and my fellow travellers will have special food requests (eg no butter, etc))

    find more nectarines!!

  • No butter? Do you think someone can really request this in France? :-)

  • Abra: I used sucre vergeoise with nothing else added.

    Krysalia: Yes, we’re trying to get it to work. But you know how hard it is to get anything done during les vacances!

    Flory: Try soy margarine, although I don’t have any experience using it in baking. Most lactose intolerant people can eat a reasonable amount of dairy products without problems.

    As for getting by in Paris, English-speakers have a much easier time here finding someone who speaks their language than French people would in America. You should check out the tips and suggestions on the My Paris page, which I just revised with new listings. And check out the links to my posts on vegetarian and gluten-free dining for tips on dining on Paris on a special diet.

  • Looked in my pantry…..and it’s gonna be plums (just got a bag of little green ones from a friend).

    But what “berry” would you recommend w/ plums? I’m drawing a blank……….

    thanks

  • I unfortunately do not have a cast iron skillet. (sheepish look)

    Can I use a pyrex pie plate? I know they’re fine in the oven and microwave. Does anyone know if they’re okay on the stovetop (electric)?

  • Even if it’s not what you imagined, that fruit is beautiful!

  • So do we get more on the ‘hooters worthy neighbor’?

  • Gina: You could make the topping in a saucepan or another skillet, then pour it into Pyrex. I wouldn’t put glass directly on the stovetop unless it’s specifically designed for that.

  • Seems georgeously yummy… My little tip for upside down cake : I’d rather use buttermilk than regular milk, I find the batter lighter, maybe have you try ?

  • I would give anything to have a leftover slice of that cake to eat right now with my coffee. With a dollop of crème frâiche, s’il vous plait.

  • I love your recipes, mostly because they aren’t loaded with sugar. I made your jam tart last week, loved the cornmeal addition, and devoured the end result. You’re brilliant and thank you for another great recipe to try!

  • mhhhh this is loooking so delicious. I will have to try and make this pie although i am not very good at baking

  • David – you find cranberries in France? Canneberges? I wonder where they are from. I love cranberries and I use them a lot in baking including in an upside down cake with cornflour in the batter. I am surprised about the blueberries though… I would have thought that bleuets or myrtilles would have been more common… certainly more common than cranberries.

    I am with you on that one, I love my cast iron pans (all 6 of them) and Dutch ovens. When my Dad was visiting from France the only thing he REALLY wanted to bring back from Virginia (besides pecans & Jack Daniel) was a giant Lodge cast iron pan – and I mean giant: it took half his meagre luggage weight allowance. I thought that was pretty funny. He loves it!

  • Shirlie: I was once giving a demonstration and said, “I don’t like sweet things” and everyone chuckled. But what I meant was that I don’t like things over sugary or rich. This cake strikes a good balance, especially if you use tangy fruit.

    Ester: That’s a great idea and I love buttermilk. Yogurt would also be a good substitute, too.

    Sylvie: Yes, Ocean Spray is in in France now, although I bring them back from the states and freeze them, since like bushberries, they’re astronomically expensive here.

    As Krysalia mentioned, out in the country, berries are easier to find and are less-expensive at the markets. But when people complain about the price of berries, I always want to say, “Have you ever picked berries? It’s a lot of work!” So I guess I shouldn’t complain, either ; )

  • Ha! I second the lot of work to pick berries comment! Having spent my summers growing up picking blueberries, trawberries, peaches, plums, ect. on my Grandfather’s orchard. I really can’t bring myself to pay for blueberries.

  • I find it very difficult to find apricots that are ripe and tasty enough. If someone stole my carefully sought out fruits I would probably leave scars. People from Maine take a while to warm up to this fruit which does not lend itself to early picking and travel to your store.
    I recently found some good ones and on request made a crumble from a recipe at “Tasting Menu” blog. It was a huge hit, although I had to ask my woodsmen neighbor to open the pits for me.

  • Helen – I love raspberries with plums!

  • David

    I made this recipe (with fresh nectarines and cherries) right after you posted it.

    I have to say…. it was delicious.

    Thanks

  • Hi David,
    I just realized I’ve never made an upside down cake in my life. What a fool I’ve been. But you’ve totally inspired me now. Love the photos. And I love the idea of using cranberries or pears in winter. Oooh, or maybe both together!

    One question – if I did use yogurt instead of milk, would I need to replace some of the baking powder with baking soda? Thanks.

  • David,
    I made this last night with the smaller plums (called Zwetschen here in Germany) with dried cranberries. It was absolutely delicious! My German husband, like every other German I know here, is a member of the “Church of Sunday Kaffee und Kuchen.” We ate the cake at exactly the right temperature, and he said was happy to worship during the week!

    Karen

  • Dear David,

    I tried this cake and it has come out fabulous !!

    My husband who never eats cakes just loves this !! I have one problem though…

    It is the caramel. I let the butter melt, then added the sugar. By the time the sugar melts and starts bubbling, it starts to solidify too. And I pour it into the cake pan in which I am making the cake, while the caramel is still hot. And when I let it cool down it solidifies. Is that supposed to happen ? And today, when I made this, the caramel did not melt completely but stayed like thin solidified layer !!!

    Please let me know what I am doing wrong, and how I can make it right !!

    Many Many thanks for this wonderful recipe.

    Mala

  • Thanks for the recipe, David. I made this along with an apple pie for our Txgvg in Tokyo.

  • Hi,
    I’ve been reading your blog for ages (Fun!). But yesterday was the first time I made something from it. A friend got engaged and I needed something quick for the impromptu celebration party. Made this with apples and cinnamon. Twas FABULOUS! Thanks : )
    Heena

  • David,

    Thanks for the great recipes! I made your upside down cake this afternoon and it was terrific. I had one problem: I melted the brown sugar with the butter and let it cool. When it cooled, it hardened like a rock. Like toffee, really. I left it like that and piled on Empire apple slices with some plumped organic raisins, added the cake batter, and baked as directed. I rather hoped the toffee would melt in the oven, and it appears some of it did. But there was a fair amount that remained hard on the bottom of the pan. I slipped a thin blade under the edge and was able to lift out the toffee in good-size pieces. I wound up breaking them up over the cake after I turned it out onto the serving plate. Made no difference to our family… it was very, very good.

    Any ideas on how to keep the caramel from hardening when it cools?

    Thanks again!
    Kathleen

  • Hi Kathleen: Because the recipe is designed for use with juicy fruits, apples (depending on which variety you use) may result in the caramel not melting. The comment previous to yours noted success with apples so you might try a juicier variety. If you live near a greenmarket or farmer’s market, ask the apple folks what they might recommend. Or inquire with the produce people at your supermarket.

    You can add some berries or cranberries to the apples you have which may add additional moisture, or perhaps a dab of maple syrup or honey.

  • David, I made this delicious cake this morning – apricots and juicy plums. Sweet and tart.

    It was divine. I had to have two slices immediately – partly as my husband insists on putting all cakes straight in the fridge, and partly as it was SO good. I’m guessing this will actually be fantastic cold – the high temps of the Parisian afternoons of late have made cold desserts a must, and I have not yet moved onto ice-cream making.

    many thanks for the recipe.

    Sara

  • Thank you for the recipe! I made nectarine upside down cake yesterday and it turned out delicious! So yummy! =) I’m glad I found your site!

  • David, thank you so much for the lovely recipe and your entire gorgeous and delectable blog! I discovered it yesterday in my search for an upside-down cake recipe and am completely in love with it!

    I wanted to let you and Flory know (though I realize hers is an older post) that there is no lactose in butter (for future reference!). It is 100% butterfat. Lactose is a sugar :)

    And to Krysalia…I am delightedly fantasizing about having a garden such as the one you describe. If everyone had one … we could save the world…

    My nectarine and blackberry upside down cake is in the oven and it smells incredible. I’m taking it to the office to share with some colleagues who are working all weekend to meet a deadline. Thanks again!

  • I just put together a couple of these, with local pears and huckleberries. I added chopped pecans to one, and caramel chunks (left over from a failed experiment) to another. They turned out beautiful, but haven’t had a slice yet.

    I had a little extra cake batter, and so I also made a tiny cake, with a white sugar based caramel sauce (sugar butter milk salt), and some more caramel chunks, and very dark chocolate. This was insanely rich, but the neighbor kids seemed to like it.

    Thanks for the great recipe! I love your blog.

  • Thanks for the inspiration: I used pears with gingerbread cake…yum!

  • hi david, i was just wondering whether i could at spices or herbs to the cake? i was thinking more of the nutmeg, cinnamon line but i’m no expert, so i decided i should ask first.
    thanks!

  • Sure, feel free to adjust the batter with spices, to your liking.

  • Hello David,

    What a wonderful recipe! Thank you for sharing it.
    Have got a lot of plums that I intend to use, but please, tell me.. can I substitute almond meal for some of the flour?

    Thanks!

  • Sarah: Yes, you could. I’ve not done it, so can’t give exact proportions for the substitution, but you might want to try with about 25%. That’s a guesstimate, though. But if you try it, let me know how it works out.

  • Like Kathleen and Maya my caramel became rock hard and stuck to the skillet. I even made the caramel mixture a second time because I could tell it was too stiff. Anyway I used blueberries and the cake was delicious and very beautiful but the caramel stayed on the pan.

  • Hi David,

    This cake reminds me of my childhood so I made it yesterday with peaches. Unfortunately, I didn’t stick to your caramel recipe – so the cake wasn’t as gooey as I wanted it to be.

    You mentioned about flavoring the batter with rose geranium leaves. How do you do that? Chop the leaves?

    Thanks!

  • Hi David
    Do you think I can replace plums with peaches? I have some fresh nectarines, peaches and blueberries in my fridge and would love to try this reciple with them!
    You think these 3 will make good combination?

  • Great recipe, very easy.
    Followed your advice and use the fruits I have where I live, so I used abacaxi (pinneaple),mango, bananas and dried grapes.
    Perfect for breakfast or for dessert with an icecream!

  • David, thank you so very much for this recipe: I am not really great at baking but following your recipes makes even such a frustrated baker as myself look like a rising star of the dessert making. I made my take on this with persimmon, sea buckthorn and aniseed star. Using this much of butter and sugar though made me think that there are men to whom I can’t say no – and you are one of them) I am excited to cherish the thought you may check out my cheeky post.

  • living in Lima, Peru, I am determined to try this with beautiful tart slices of starfruit. Thanks for the wonderful inspiration!

    (today I made your polenta-rosemary-olive oil cake, it smelled absolutely incredible when i slipped it out of the cake pan!)

  • Made it with apples (had to add a little water because they’re drier than stone fruit) and cranberries. Fresh cranberries, which floated up into the cake batter. Next time I’ll use defrosted frozen berries or chop them slightly so it breaks up the air pockets. Brilliant recipe though, very delicious!